The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Monday, October 04, 2004

Confessions of a potty training failure

Julia's always been the easy kid who hits milestones early and without trouble. She's a good natured, easy-going kid and while I've always been sympathetic to my friends' parenting road blocks, we frankly haven't had too many up until now. Until the potty came along.

I actually assumed Julia would end up potty training herself (oh, fool, thy name is Mommy). At about 18 months, she started getting upset whenever her diaper was wet because she'd "ruined" whichever Sesame Street character was on her diaper that day. She was so worked up and hysterical every time she urinated that I was sure she must have some sort of a bladder infection. After 3 hours in the doctor's office trying to get a urine sample, it turned out she was physically just fine -- she simply was overthinking the act of peeing. I thought about training her then, but decided that her body wasn't physically ready and she was so upset already that failure would put her over the edge. So we started talking about how everybody pees, and if she got upset about going, we'd instantly start a discussion about who else she knew who pee pees. It eventually turned into a "Rain Man" routine -- I'd know Julia has wet her diaper because she'd suddenly start muttering "Mama pee pees. Yeah. And Dada pee pees. Yeah. And Grandma pee pees..." Really charming stuff, especially in public. But at least she wasn't crying. And I was convinced that with this much awareness of her bodily functions this early, as soon as she was physically ready she'd be letting me know.

Fast forward a year to the beginning of this summer. The little potties had been out in our bathrooms for almost a year and they were serving as great stepstools and places to teach dolls to pee pee, but Julia was showing little interest in participating in the process herself. The summer seemed the best time to work on this, so I cheerfully started down the potty training road. I still kind of figured it would all be a no brainer -- Julia had all of the "readiness signs" on the online checklists and was in a fabulous cooperative phase. "Done within a week or two," I told myself as we began.

In no time at all, it became clear that this was not going to happen in a week and in fact was going to be anything but easy, but not for any of the reasons the "experts" told me to expect. Julia got the concept instantly and her body was more than mature enough. But the kid simply refused to go in the potty. I could put her in panties and she'd keep them dry for hours, but not by replacing a diaper with the potty. She just didn't put her pee pee anywhere, and when she finally couldn't hold it any more, she'd wet her panties and then wail. Sigh.

So we backtracked again. To try to get her comfortable with the potty, I suggested she might want to go "on" instead of "in". She loved the idea, and before I knew it, every time she had to go, Julia went to the bathroom, pulled down her pants, sat on the potty and went. If we were out, she'd tell me she needed to go and patiently wait until I found her a bathroom. She was even staying dry through naps and most nights. It was all idylic. Except for one problem: her pullup stayed up the whole time and after she'd gone "on" the potty ("not in, Mommy!"), I'd have to change her. Now we were running for potties all over town *and* I was changing diapers. Fabulous. :)

Last Friday, I finally decided enough was enough. She'd done the hard part -- she'd mastered physical control over her body. Now I just needed to help her through the emotional part. So I took a deep breath and announced that we'd run out of diapers. Julia cried for 5 minutes, then gamely pulled on a pair of panties. They stayed dry all morning. So did her potty. I let her have a pullup for nap and she drenched it, then cheefully changed back into panties when she woke up. They stayed dry until bedtime. So did her potty. I'm sure as soon as I shut the door to her bedroom that night, her nighttime diaper was soaked.

I couldn't decide who had won the first day's battle -- me because the panties had stayed dry or Julia because she hadn't surrendered a drop to the dreaded potty. Day two, I decided we needed more liquids. I pushed every kind of juice concotion under the sun. She must have figured out the connection pretty quickly because she started refusing to drink. Over the course of the next two days, we had a few accidents, many, many hours of dry panties and not a single successful use of the potty.

Ever resourceful, I created a new game which I called "potty break." Every time I called out "potty break", Julia had to run to the potty, pull down her panties, sit down and count to whatever number I gave her. I told her she didn't have to *use* the potty if she didn't want, but if she felt the urge to go while she was sitting there, it might be a good time. By the end of the weekend, Julia could count to 100. Not once did she actually go while she was sitting there.

By Sunday, I was getting frantic. We needed to resume our normal lives on Monday and I wasn't sure what to do about classes, preschool, etc. Julia remained a champ about keeping her panties dry. But she had not successfully used the potty even once. I couldn't see sending her out into the world in panties without getting her over that hurdle. So I decided to try to beat her at her own waiting-it-out game. After a dry morning, I put her down for her nap in waterproof training pants and told her that they were special sleep panties that she had to keep dry. Damned if she didn't do it. The kid had consumed 20 or so oz of liquid and had now held it for over 7 hours. I put back on her regular panties and gamely continued our day, but truthfully, I was now beginning to have the feeling my daughter had won. She seemed calm, but I had reached completely crazy mode: crazy that I couldn't find a way to get her past this hurdle, crazy that I didn't know what to do next and downright certifiable that my child could hold her bladder for 7 hours when I'm hard pressed to go 45 minutes without a bathroom break.

Finally, in the late afternoon, in a small quiet voice, Julia said "I think I need to poop." The poor kid hadn't done that at all in 3 days, so I was eager to help her succeed. I offered a compromise: a diaper to wear on the potty just until she'd pooped. She jumped at the chance, but once it was on, decided maybe she could hold her poop a little longer if she could just wear her beloved diaper for a little while. I couldn't take it any more. "You just don't want to potty train, do you?" I asked her. She started to cry.

What's a parent to do? I wanted her out of diapers, but not at the expense of years and years of future therapy to get over the trauma I was inflicting. So I gave her a choice. I told her that either she could wear panties and work it all out herself or she could wear diapers and not talk about it again for a while. If she wore the panties, it was up to her to use the potty -- no more coorcement from me. And if she picked the diapers, I was putting away the potty seats, the pretty panties, the sticker charts, the congratulatory cookies and all of the acoutremont of potty training. She would not be going "on." We would not be discussion her elimination habits AT ALL. Needless to say, she selected Option B.

So we're embracing the diapers. On the up side, Julia's been remarkably good about cooperating with changes -- she knows that her hold on the diapers is tenuous at best and she's determined not to rock the boat. Periodically, she brings up the topic of her panties and which pair she wants to wear when she decides to go in the potty. I tell her I don't want to talk about it. And I must say, after over a year of tripping over little plastic potty seats, my bathrooms are feeling pretty spacious these days.

All of the experts assure me that Julia will not start college, or even kindergarten, in diapers. But since the experts also assured me that she was ready to train and this would be easy, I'm having a bit of trouble taking them too seriously these days. Everything that is difficult about potty training -- identifying the need to go, telling someone, holding it until you get to the potty and undressing, Julia mastered in less than a day. The easy part -- the simply wanting to be a big kid and use the potty, we're still waiting for. I've read everything I can find on the subject and nowhere can I find a suggestion to address our problem. The bottom line is that Julia needs to decide on her own that she's ready to do this. And I can't do that for her. This kid is smart. At 2 1/2, she can sight read dozens of words and sound out dozens more. She can assemble 24 piece puzzles in under 5 minutes. She can (thanks to the potty break game) count to 100 with ease. And she's smart enough to realize that it's easier to go in her diapers than to bother with a potty. What can I say? She's right. Send those Pampers coupons my way... I think I'll be needing them for a while yet.


At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel your angst! My son is 4-1/2 and still at about the same stage as your 2-1/2 year old.

Good luck!

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

Almost a year and a half after the fact, this is an interesting read. My experience with Zoe was nothing like this...maybe that's why I braved Evan when I did. I dunno...I'm just humbled by the whole experience. Amazing, isn't it, how we can be put squarely in our place by a two and a half year old and their, ahem, shit?

At 8:44 AM, Blogger Dana said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Dana said...

Like Kristy, reading this as Julia turns 4.

I can't tell you how much frustration and anxiety this post churns up out of my memory. Danielle wasn't too bad (I say this 6 years on and memories fade).

But Iain was very similar to Julia. I can see why you're waiting a little longer for Evan.


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